Move over, hyaluronic acid: The latest powerhouse moisturizing ingredient flooding the skincare market is polyglutamic acid (PGA). It may technically be an acid, but it's nothing like exfoliating peels that use ingredients such as salicylic or glycolic acid that we use to slough off dead skin. In fact, polyglutamic acid has been found to hold up to 5,000 times its own weight in water, four times that of hyaluronic acid, meaning the buzzy new ingredient packs a major hydrating punch.
Quickly becoming a breakout ingredient in skincare, PGA is extremely versatile: "It’s water soluble, it’s anionic, it’s biodegradable, it’s nontoxic, it’s edible," says Flora Kim, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Dallas. "All of these different qualities has made it successfully used in multiple different industries." Here's everything you need to know about the new skin thirst-quencher:
What exactly is polyglutamic acid?
Polyglutamic acid is a natural polymer (often produced by fermentation of bacteria) that was originally used in wound healing. Unlike some moisture boosters that penetrate skin, polyglutamic acid is a larger molecule that sits on top, which helps skin glow and increases luminosity (like a natural highlighter!). “It both hydrates skin and makes it look more plump,” says Dr. Kim.
What are the benefits of polyglutamic acid?
There's still a lot to learn about the ingredient, but here are some of the things that polyglutamic acid shines at:
Hydration. Just like its cousin hyaluronic acid, polyglutamic acid is also a moisturizing superstar. As a humectant, it retains moisture from water with “excellent water- binding properties and long-lasting moisture retention capacity,” Dr. Kim explains. “This can indirectly improve skin’s elasticity.”
Wound healing. Before polyglutamic acid ever made its way into your face cream, it was being used in the medical realm, primarily for wounds and burns. Many skincare advancements actually start with wound care, since it uses many of the same properties as skincare, says Dr. Kim: "When you’re healing wounds you have to provide a lot of hydration and moisture, [so it] only makes sense that it starts with that."
Anti-aging. Since hydration helps improve the elasticity of skin, polyglutamic acid can help to reduce wrinkles. Think of a raisin vs. a grape: They look much different, but the only difference is hydration. "A raisin is all shriveled up and it's got these wrinkles, but if you just add water and moisture to it, it plumps up. That’s one way of thinking [about] what polyglutamic acid potentially can do." Dr. Kim says that there are also a few reports that polyglutamic acid has anti-radical activity that may aid in anti-aging, but these need further research.
Are there any side effects to polyglutamic acid?
Since polyglutamic acid is a gentle and hydrating ingredient, it's pretty universal. "In general, anyone should be fine, but of course there could always be an exceptions, so you just have to listen to your skin," Dr. Kim explains. One thing to keep in mind: While some products will only have polyglutamic acid as an active ingredient, some contain other actives that may be harsh on certain skin types, so always read the ingredient list.
How often should polyglutamic acid be used?
This depends on your skin, but the good thing is that you can't really overdo it on pure polyglutamic acid, so no need to worry about how often you use it, like you might with other acids like AHAs or BHAs.
If you're in a "dry environment and you’re skin’s dry, you probably need to apply it quite frequently and maybe a higher quantity," Dr. Kim says. On the other hand, if you're in a humid environment and/or you have oilier skin, you may not need to apply it as often — but it is good for a hydration boost as needed on all skin types and all environments.
What results should you expect from using polyglutamic acid?
Because of its humectant properties, you can expect your skin to look and feel more moisturized and plump with reduced fine lines and wrinkles, says Dr. Kim. Since PGA sits on top of your skin instead of penetrating deep down, Dr. Kim says it's a great way to get a coveted "glass skin" look — a K-beauty phenomenon where skin looks clear, dewy, smooth, and glass-like.
How can I fit polyglutamic acid into my skincare routine?
As long as the product you're using doesn't contain other active ingredients already (check the label!), polyglutamic acid can be added into any skincare routine, and it there's no need to exercise caution when using it with products like vitamin C, retinol, or niacinimide.
What polyglutamic acid products are best?
Polyglutamic acid is typically found in serums, but it's also in everything from eye creams to sheet masks. For the best benefits, look for polyglutamic acid in the top half of the ingredients lists of topical skincare products that are left on skin rather than rinsed off, such as moisturizers and serums. This way, you can ensure that you're getting the highest concentration of polyglutamic acid and the most benefits.
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